We may have trouble negotiating arms reductions, but on one issue the nations of the world agree; thus, the International Olive and Olive Oil Agreement of 1986. This agreement defines the terms “virgin olive oil” and “extra virgin olive oil”.
Any olive oil that wants to call itself virgin must be obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means rather than by a heating process. The oil cannot be refined or diluted, but may be washed, decanted, and filtered. The lowest grade of virgin olive oil is semi-fine virgin olive oil, which is sold in stores as “virgin”. This oil must be judged to have a good flavor and no more than three grams of free oleic acid per hundred grams of oil.
The next highest grade, fine virgin olive oil, cannot exceed one and a half grams of oleic acid per hundred grams and must have excellent taste.
Extra virgin olive oil must have “absolutely perfect flavour” and maximum acidity of one gram per hundred grams. According to José Luis Perez Sanchez, commercial counselor of the Embassy of Spain, extra virgin olives are often used with different kinds of natural flavors and are quite expensive, which any trip to the local gourmet emporium will affirm.
As with many other food items, the prize commodity (extra virgin olive oil) is the one that achieves quality by omission. By being free of extraneous flavors or high acidity, the “special” olive oil is the one that manages what wouldn’t seem like too difficult a task: to taste like olives.